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Exploring New Dimensions Through Labyrinthine Art


Jonah Levy | November 30, 2017
Sabrina Barrios discusses quantum physics, questioning reality, and the best places to both find and create portals.

While working at the Center for Holographic Arts on Governors Island, I had many opportunities to explore the Victorian-era structures that housed site-specific sculptures and installation. After poking my head into the attic of one of those buildings on Colonels Row, I was confronted with many lines of string. I spent a fair amount of time exploring Sabrina Barrios’s three-dimensional structures and the relationship they had with the dilapidated, half-century-old space.

In the same space, a chipped white wall had been scrubbed chaotically with black paint, evoking a sense of creation and destruction simultaneously. I wound up working with Sabrina the following year at the un(SCENE) art show and got deeper into her two- and three-dimensional work. Much like her work itself, speaking with her can also grant one the freedom of exploring new dimensions, all while being grounded in the labyrinthine and labor-intensive reality of art-making.

photo by Leandro Viana

How did you find yourself developing beyond two dimensions? Were you always involved in exploring space?

When I started this body of work, I was drawing and I wanted to get off of the wall. I experimented with materials that were very precise and with very straight lines that would form portals and paths. I didn’t want to explore just with my eyes; I wanted my body to be present. I wanted to use art as an instrument for dialogue, creating a participatory body of work.

How does communication play a role in your work?

I started going back in history, and I wanted to find the gaps. Why don’t we implicitly understand the language of hieroglyphics, but we understand a pin on Google Maps? I found that geometry is universal. You know what a square is, and if I put a circle in a square, you feel the implicit tension in that. Geometry unites people and speaks for itself, so I’m trying to take advantage of that.

You speak a lot about portals. What are some of your influences regarding the idea of multidimensionality?

I always go back to questioning reality. I started studying quantum physics, which teaches that when you are presented with two options, it’s as if you’ve already chosen both paths, but because you’re stuck in your body, you can only choose one. However, if we pull ourselves out of time, we would perhaps perceive both decisions going down their own paths. So I would follow those paths and go back to the earlier mistakes we may have made, in which we believe there is only one reality, and I would try to establish that no, reality is very complex. We are very little by comparison to the cosmos. A lot of my work is done in order to get people to question themselves as opposed to being stuck in this reality where we get up, go to work, come home exhausted, and the next day is the same thing.

What are the sorts of spaces where you like to create portals?

I love creating them in places that are abandoned or completely destroyed, because that’s where the portal would really be — a space where no one goes, a place where there was some ancient knowledge or tradition that would lead you to that portal, but now it’s lost.

If one of your portals truly led to a vastly different place, where would it go?

Maybe I already do go — maybe we all go when we dream. Maybe I’d like a portal to go underwater or to Antarctica. I guess if there was a portal to the inner Earth, that’s where I’d like to visit.

The words “experiential” and “immersive” are getting thrown around a lot these days. Do you find the art world embracing your work more because of this?

I think what’s changing isn’t necessarily the art world, but the people. They want to participate in works of art, they want to be part of the narrative, they want to care. If you participate in the experience, you’re going to remember that, you’re going to take it with you. That’s more important to me than whether the art world is changing or not.

Is there a new media you’re experimenting with or would like to get your hands on if you could?

My work is conceptual, so I translate that concept with different media. If you have a video, you can add a new image every second, but if I have a painting, the image is already there. In experiential or participatory work, I use more than one medium in the same exhibition. One helps inform the other, and by understanding each element of the experience, you understand the experience itself. What I’d love to step into next is sound, because you can create a mood in the sound. I want to help the viewer become completely immersed.

For other creative people, join the Fernet-Branca Family

All images courtesy of Sabrina Barrios

Jonah Levy has been a New York City tour guide for his family business, Levys’ Unique NY, for more than a decade. This has allowed him to learn about and explore the many levels of NYC history and culture. He also is a nightlife event producer and curator as well as a program advisor for Per La Mente.


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